Emma Swanberg Asp




Life and Work

Emma was born in Mankato, Minnesota March 8, 1885. She was the only child of Alinda (Westman) and John Swanberg. Her father was a stonemason and placed the cornerstone in the Swedish Lutheran Church where Emma was confirmed and taught Sunday school. While growing up in Mankato, she would go on vacation with her family to visit her mother's relatives at Kansa Lake.

Emma met and married (Rhode) Harding Asp in Mankato on September 10, 1904. They farmed at Long Lake near Mankato and moved to Wetaskiwin in 1905. Harding's older brother was living in Wetaskiwin and together they operated the Star store.

Emma and Harding were very active, community-minded people, with tireless energy and enthusiasm, as were many of the pioneers that founded this nation. They were long-time members of the Swedish Lutheran Church and Emma baked, canned, sewed, knitted and crocheted items for the many craft, bake sales, community functions and groups they supported. She also hosted many lawn parties. She was a founding member of the Scandinavian Welfare Society from 1909 to her death in 1973. The society started the first hospital in Wetaskiwin, located on 48 Street. The Asp family lived across the street.

Emma and Harding had eight children, Sidney, Milton, Marie, Rehelda, Theodore, Clarence, Margaret and Jean. Sydney was handicapped and passed away at the age of eighteen years and a second child, Milton, passed away from diphtheria. Emma also became very ill with diphtheria and had a very slow recovery. The whole family was quarantined.

Emma became a farm wife when they lived on a farm east of Wetaskiwin, known as the 'Miller' farm. From here Emma would drive the team and buggy into town to attend various functions. The horse would be stabled at the livery barn next to the Beehive Store (present Co-op Site). The livery manager once remarked on what a smart horse she had and when Emma asked "'why?", he replied that the animal didn't even have a bit in his mouth.

In 1917, Emma and Harding moved back to town. Emma cared for her children and many others. She was fortunate to have help at home from the time of Rehelda's birth. They went on many trips and picked berries in the fall. In 1919, the Asps moved to Camrose where Harding bought Standard grocery store in partnership with Mr. Fucar.

Emma did a lot of entertaining, Halloween parties, birthday parties, etc. Emma was an accomplished seamstress and sewed all of the girls' clothes. She also sewed slipcovers for her chairs and sofa. In 1924 the family moved out of Camrose to a farm in the Verdun district. They had no running water, no bathroom facilities, no electricity and the farm was in need of repairs. At Verdun, Emma found very little in the way of women's organizations for socializing, so she and Lillian Sears started the Ladies Sunshine Club for the farm women. She washed clothes in a granary fitted up with two stoves where she also cooked. Wild game and chickens were often on the menu. Card games were a favorite pastime and neighbors would gather there for entertainment. Ice cream was often made with pudding and whipped cream, which was frozen, in a snow bank.

In 1929 they rented out the farm and moved back to Wetaskiwin. Emma took in boarders while Harding became a partner in a sawmill. In 1934, Harding became ill and they returned to the farm in Verdun. During this period Emma often went back to Minnesota to care for her childless aunt and uncles and parents during illnesses, until their passing away (John) 1930 and (Alinda)1938. Upon her return to Canada after her mother's death, Emma bought a house in Wetaskiwin.

When all of her children were either married or in the army, she rented out the house and moved into a suite in the Criterion Hotel with her daughter, Rehelda. Harding preferred to stay on the farm. After the war Emma, Harding, Clarence and Rehelda moved to the 'Ward House" across the street from the Queen Elizabeth School. Emma rented out the upstairs, Clarence lived in a basement suite while Rehelda and Emma lived on the main floor. Harding was admitted to Rosehaven in Camrose where he passed away December 1, 1952. Emma remained in her home until her death November 1, 1973 at the age of 88 years.


Memories of Grandma Asp by Jeannie Munroe
When I think of Grandma Asp, I think of her as the Asp family monarch. Grandma was very respected and loved by her family and friends, and was well known in the community through her involvement in organizations and the church.

I would not trade any memories I have of Grandma Asp. Family was very important to her, and she taught us all what the true meaning of "family" really was.

My first recollections are around the age of four, and the tremendous big white-house in which Grandma lived. If I were to describe the house today, I would describe it as somewhat "Victorian." It was a large two-storey home, with a front covered porch, which ran the width of the house. The house was situated on a large double lot, with a groomed cotoneaster hedge that ran in front of the house along the main sidewalk. Half-way down the hedge, there was a permanent "break" in the hedge, attributed to mostly what I would guess as my brothers - Richard and Ronnie, and me (and Sandy, our beloved cocker spaniel) always using as a "short-cut" to the steps leading up the porch to the front door.

The door to the house was never locked. Grandma's house was our second home and we'd just walk right in at any time. Inside the front door was a long hallway. On the left of the hallway was a long flight of steps going upstairs to a second living quarters where my Aunt Clara and Uncle Clarence, and our two cousins Dennis and Judy, lived. On the right was a parlour room, and a piano, which us kids would often, play (pound) on. The long hallway led into a lovely dining room and living room, with comfortable furniture, which would be beautiful antique furniture today. There was always a dish of "humbugs" on the buffet. Also in the living room was a very special armchair that "only" Grandma would sit in. It was "Grandma's chair"! And, no one would sit in it out of respect for Grandma. The kitchen was at the back of the house. I have memories of Grandma frequently sitting in the kitchen and conversing in "Swedish" to her Scandinavian friends on the telephone. The kitchen was connected to a large bathroom, which led into the master bedroom on the other side. At the back door, was a sun porch. The basement consisted of another separate living area where my Auntie Re lived. In the backyard there was a crabapple tree, which we kids would tackle from time to time, which is about the only time I ever saw Grandma just a "little bit" annoyed with us.

As mentioned. Grandma's house was our second home, and it always conjures up warm and numerous memories. Whenever I felt lonely, I'd trot on down to visit Grandma and Auntie Re. I often visited after school, too, which was right across the street. Grandma and Auntie Re would always be there to offer encouragement and praise. Often I would find Sandy, our dog, at Grandma's, as he used to feel lonely too. During the day he would make his way to Grandma's house to visit, which was about three blocks away from our house, and Grandma and Auntie Re would spoil him. Even the dog-catcher eventually began to ignore Sandy, I am told, as he made his way to Grandma's.

We were always welcomed by Grandma and Re, and they made us feel very special and wanted. "Family" - all the nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, moms, dads and grandchildren were so important to Grandma, and she would ensure as many of us were together at Christmas time and special occasions, as well as our annual summer family reunions. Christmas was very special - I don't know how Grandma managed with so many people in her home at one time. I used to love seeing my out-of-town cousins from Red Deer and Grande Prairie, and various places. Grandma used to let us run around like wild Indians; we were upstairs - downstairs (where we made tunnels and hid on each other). Christmas was very special to me in those days, as I'm sure it was to all of us. Grandma always had a Christmas card for all the grandchildren, and put a little money in each one. We thought that was great! In the summer, we always had a family reunion, quite often as I recall at Gull Lake. We had wonderful picnic food, tents for changing, and just being together - all of us.

Without Grandma's caring and love for family, I would not have these wonderful memories of family, love, fun, sharing and security which I'm positive helped shaped my personality and make me a better person today.

It was indeed a sad day when Grandma Asp passed away. I will always remember her "greatness". If I ever have grandchildren, I hope I can create the same loving atmosphere that Grandma Asp did for us, and shape their lives for the better.

Memories of Emma Asp by Clara Asp
Emma was very active and occupied most of the chairs in many organizations and lodges. She served with the Women's Institute, Farm Women of Alberta, Ladies of the Royal Purple, the Rebekah Lodge, Scandinavian Welfare Society, Swedish Lutheran Church Women, Red Cross and probably many more of which I am not aware. She was a secretary for one or more of these organizations for many years and kept the books up to the time of her death. She dressed up for Pioneer Days and provided period costumes and hats for friends and various people. She also made her own nifty hats.

Emma was young at heart and related well to young and old alike. She was famous for her monologues and her tremendous sense of humour and pranks. On one occasion she served her distinguished guests round chocolate cookies that they just weren't able to get their teeth into. She had sawed a broom handle into thin circles, coated the circles with chocolate and set them carefully among the other dainty cookies on the plate. She was very much loved, no one took offence, and they looked forward to the next surprise.

Emma was generous, making jellies and pickles, canning and sharing her garden bounty with friends, family and seniors' homes. She presided at many teas, bake sales and organization conventions and loved the various rituals and marches.

She painted, sewed, knitted, crocheted, embroidered, played the piano and worked tirelessly for the boys overseas. She was busy making quilts, crocheting tablecloths for children and grandchildren. Christmas was in the Swedish tradition at Grandma Asp's, with presents opened on Christmas Eve. She gave tirelessly, cheerfully and with great enthusiasm and generosity to friends, family and all around her. She was what we would call "a mover and a shaker" today, a true pioneer woman in word, thought and deed.

Letter of Appreciation by Margaret Davis
In March, I was asked to write a little about my mother in honour of her.

I had a very wonderful mother even though she was an only child. I really don't know how she could do it, and move so far from her parents and relatives. She managed to get all of us to see her parents and my dad's parents in the States.

I never heard her grumble to us about anything and she was always there for us even when we were grown up and had children of our own. I remember writing a letter to her when she was in the States for a long visit taking care of her parents, aunts and uncles. I told her that I had been out to a dance and didn't get home until midnight. She wrote back and said, "You're lucky. I have to be home by 9 every night." Frank and I took her on many trips and she never grumbled about anything. (I was the one who did).

If I needed her to come to take care of the kids she was right there and they really loved her. Our children loved to spend some time with her in the summer holidays. She knew Frank before I did and as he lost his mother early in his life, my mother was his mother also. I didn't know she knew him before I did.

I called Mother up early one morning and couldn't get hold of her. I was very worried and since she had renters upstairs, I called them. They went downstairs and found her bed was empty. So they had the town looking for her. She was finally found working at a sale downtown.

One day she was outside and had a rake in her hand. I asked her what she was doing. She was taking crabapples off her tree. She was going to make apple sauce for the people at the old folks home. She was as old as they were, maybe even older. She was always thinking about the older people as well as her children and grandchildren.

All I can say in honour of her was that she was a wonderful mother and grandmother. She set a good example for all her family. We all have been very proud of her for all she has done for the family, grandchildren and organizations that she belonged to.

When I first heard her give monologues, I was so worried that she would forget some of the lines. No way. She had no trouble at all.

This letter is written in memory of our mother by her daughter, Margaret Davis.


Research and Writing: Janis Ruitenbeck
Contributors: Margaret Davis, Jean Prentiss, Jeannie Munroe, Clara Asp, Ted Asp and Richard Asp
Curator: Janis Ruitenbeck